Monthly Archives: September 2009

Thai Website: Thailand Guidebook

One of my favourite websites is our own It started as a student project where they put together information on every province in Thailand. A large group of students worked together to type up information provided to us by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). It was a simple site with no high ambitions but the Lonely Planet for Thailand gave us a good plug in their guidebook. Over the years the guidebook website has grown immensely. Although the Thai students are no longer involved, two of the original team have now graduated from university and are working on this project full-time. We are constantly updating the website with information gathered from tourist attractions around the country as and when we visit them. Unlike other websites, 100% of the photos were taken by our own team. We still have a good relationship with the TAT who sometimes invite us on press trips to visit new tourist attractions around the country. However, we are proud of our independence. If we don’t like a place or we don’t think it is good value for money, we will make that clear.


Day Tours to Samut Prakan Province

TOUR 1: The Erawan Museum, Ancient Siam, Crocodile Farm and finishing with a seaside meal at Bangsaen 2.

Samut Prakan Province is home to the new international airport at Suvarnabhumi and is literally on the doorstep to Bangkok. It also has some amazing and impressive attractions. However, it doesn’t really receive many independent travellers. People usually come here on package tours from Bangkok that take them either to the Crocodile Farm or the Ancient Siam. The other attractions are often overlooked which is a shame. We are close enough to Bangkok and the airport to make travel quick and easy, but we are far enough away not to have been influenced by Western culture. It is very easy to come here and get lost in jungles or mangrove forests and hardly see anyone for the whole day. In fact, many places you can go here you will hardly ever see any other foreign tourists. What I am going to do here today is give you some suggestions of day trips that you can go on from either the airport if you are in transit or from Bangkok.

(Click on the links below for more information)

This first tour takes in all the main highlights of the province visiting all of the attractions that most foreigners go to. I suggest that you start with the giant three-headed elephant at The Erawan Museum. From the airport, this is only about 35 minutes away if you take the Motorway and then the Kanchanaphisek Outer Ring Road. The elephant is immediately noticeable at the Sukhumwit Road exit. From Bangkok, it takes about 35 minutes from On Nut Sky Train Station. A taxi from there wouldn’t cost more than 150 baht. The elephant is very impressive and you shouldn’t miss out on this. It is the height of a 14 storey building. Adults cost 150 baht and children are 50 baht. Tours of the elephant set off every half hour. The grounds open at 8 a.m. You will need at least an hour here if not longer.

From here you can catch a taxi to the Crocodile Farm and Zoo which will take about 20 minutes. This is the largest of its kind in Thailand. There are many imitations around the country but I feel that their Crocodile Wrestling Show is the best. This takes place every hour starting from 9 a.m. If you have just missed a show when you arrive, then take a look around the crocodile pens while you are waiting. You can buy chicken carcasses to feed the crocodiles. Once this show has finished you can go straight over to the other side of the park to watch the Elephant Show. This is not as impressive but the kids like it. After this it is up to you what you do next. You could wander around and look at some of the other animals. Don’t forget to check out the largest captive crocodile in the world and also the crocodile nursery. If you have never ridden an elephant then you can do so here for 50 baht. Entrance to the farm is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. If you can speak Thai then you can usually get away with paying the Thai price of 60 baht. There are restaurants here and snack vendors if you are getting hungry. You will need at least two hours here.

You should be able to find a taxi willing to take you to your next destination at the Ancient Siam. This is only about 15 minutes away. This is a big open air museum covering about 200 acres. If you don’t have time to see all of Thailand then you can come here to see many of the more important buildings and monuments. In addition, there are reproductions of old palaces and other buildings that have since been lost to history. If you have hired a taxi for the day you could go around the park by car and just stop whenever you want to get out and explore a particular area. For more freedom you can hire a bicycle or even a golf cart. Admission price is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. If you have a work permit then you can pay the Thai price of 100 baht. There are plenty of places to eat though my favourite is the floating market area where you can order noodles or som tam. The absolute minimum time to spend at the Ancient Siam is two hours. Some people will spend twice that if not all day.

The tour so far has lasted about seven hours and you would probably be exhausted by this point. Obviously, it is up to you whether you see these three main attractions in one day or take your time and spread it over two days. As it is coming to the end of the day you might want to finish off by eating a meal alongside the Gulf of Thailand while watching a beautiful sunset. Most people go to the pier at Bang Pu Seaside Resort which is about fifteen minutes away. Between October and March many people go here to feed the migratory seagulls. There is also a big restaurant at the end of the pier. However, I sometimes prefer to go to Bangsaen 2 which is only about five minutes away from Ancient Siam. You have a choice of restaurants here along the Gulf so it is less crowded. If it isn’t dark yet, you could also go for a stroll along the seafront. From here it will take you about 45 minutes or so to get back to the airport. To the sky train at On Nut it will take about 55 minutes, depending on traffic. You won’t have trouble in finding a taxi on the main road.

Visit the Samut Prakan Forums and for more pictures and also a map of the route and instructions in Thai for your taxi driver. I will be posting more tour ideas here at soon.

Road to Pai

I had not been to Pai since my second Thailand holiday in 2002. It doesn’t really make a convenient weekend getaway if you rely on public transport or your two wheels. However, it was the perfect thing to do in my friend’s car. Riding up and down hills smoothly, speaking my mother tongue for the first time in nine months, blasting the CD player at full volume and singing along to pop hits from my teenage years, eating good food, drinking litres of hilltribe coffee. Yes, we are two lazy bums.

cafe on the outskirts of Pai

I can now understand how once someone gets used to driving a car without fear of dying in the next curve, they can never go back to public transport or a motorcycle. You just shove your little backpack on the back seat, take your laptop, and set off, arriving comfortably, without sunburn, sunstroke or getting soaked, no sore legs or shoulders. I wish I could drive a car around Chiang Mai province on the weekends, a sleek comfortable but strong little car like my friend’s. But I gave up on my driving career about ten years ago, when I demolished my grandfather’s old garage trying to reverse into it.
But I digress, I suppose.

Pai does not have a good reputation these days. It is said to have been ruined by mass tourism and lost its character. That was one of the reasons why I was reluctant to go, I always get very upset when places I know change for the worse.
To my surprise, I found that apart from a horrible monster of a Bangkok Bank outpost, Pai has actually come alive and reinvented itself. It is no longer a quiet little village where nothing happens after sunset, that much is true. The old wooden houses in the centre have been converted into guesthouses, stylish cafes or shops selling souvenirs and stuff for hippies travelling on the cheap. The temples and the mosque go on about their daily life, the market is overflowing with fresh produce. There is a lively walking street market in the evenings, the guesthouses are drifting in soft music, there is no unbearable crowd, no chaos, no rude and loud people throwing money around, or tour buses. You can sign up for treks, rafting, elephant rides, mountain biking, visit caves – it is not just a little village in the middle of nowhere with hidden gems you cannot even find out about. It all comes easy. And yes, it is cheap too.

Lisu hilltribe people live in large numbers all around the province

Pai is in Mae Hong Son province: there are Shan and hilltribe touches all around. Many people seem to wear their traditional costumes during their daily activities, not only for the sake of tourists. Strange tongues float around at the market, the temples are different from Lanna-style buildings in Chiang Mai.
Charming little Wat Klang has a brand new Reclining Buddha image: it is placed inside a carved tree trunk. According to photos displayed, the building was constructed around the image. I don’t think I had seen anything like this before. Shame it is difficult to fit into a single photo because of the layout and columns.

Just a couple of hundred metres outside the centre, beyond the little guesthouses and sophisticated resorts catering for all budgets, little villages spread out among the rice fields, lotus ponds, rolling hills, meandering river. There are a few elephant camps along the river – little family affairs that have been around for ages. No shows or fireworks here, you can ride an elephant without a seat and give it a bath in the river, or head for the nearby hills. In the end, you may take a boiling hot shower using the water from hot springs in the area. Many places of interest are accessible by bicycle or motorcycle – but I am not riding a bike ever again on these hill roads in the burning sun, I remember too vividly after all these years.

Tha Pai hot springs are some 9 kms outside the town

I was so happy to see that it is still wonderland, that I managed to find places I remember from seven years ago, pretty much unchanged. It was tremendous relief and I was kicking myself for not daring to go back for so long. Now I can hardly wait to set off again, as a simple weekend away from Chiang Mai does not really do the place justice, it is only enough for a long glance, and to revive long lost memories of happy days.

My friend, a Bangkok guy, was amazed that so much greenery can be squeezed into the 360 degrees of space surrounding us, took a photo of the thermometer showing a shocking 18 degrees in the morning, knocked himself out on spicy Shan curries and northern-style nam prink ong. Amazingly, we didn’t have a single drop of rain for 3 full days, something I would have never bet any money on in the glorious month of September. But miracles can happen.

morning mist

Going to Pai is the perfect example to illustrate the idea that “Life’s a journey, not a destination”. The winding route 1095 is one of the most amazing I have seen around here in northern Thailand. It is a comfortable 4-hour drive, or 138 kms from Chiang Mai, if you take your time and take a break here and there. The GPS was furiously recalculating the route in a scared voice, to my great amusement, after the turnoff from road 107. Not that it is difficult to get lost: it is a straightforward, though nowhere near straight road of 98 kms across the mountain ranges, with the highest point at almost 1400 metres above sea level, then plunging down to the Pai valley below at an altitude of 600 metres.

little viewpoint along the road

There are great vistas, but hardly any place to stop safely to admire the view and take pictures. Well-marked and signposted paths lead to waterfalls, national parks, viewpoints, hot springs, geysers – they are now all pinned at our Chiang Mai map, and blogs are coming up sometime soon with the details. For the drive, it is important to know that even though the road is in excellent condition, it is next to suicidal to try to negotiate it in the dark or in heavy rain. The section between Pai and the turnoff the Huay Nam Dang national park, or the last 30 kms of the trip, is the most winding: it is a nasty steep descent to the valley below. We have seen a guy on a Click motorcycle getting all the way here from Chiang Mai – not sure he managed to climb all the way back in the end but hoping he did. Friends say you need at least a proper 150cc in good condition to make it.

Villages and rest stops are few and far between: the last coffee stop before Pai is 40 kms away from the town, at the little Rakjang Cafe (with an amazing view!), next to km marker 58. We also had great coffee at the turnoff to Mok Fa waterfall (around km marker 20), and a nice meal at a police checkpoint about halfway.

Pai is also served by a little 12-seater belonging to Nok Air. This is another approach I would like to try one sunny and bright day, flying all over those magnificent mountains. Sounds like this is what I am longing for these days: as little clutter as possible when I look around, clean and quiet and carefree, so that I can almost take off without having to get into a Cessna. Fashionable or not, “real Thailand” or not, I don’t care about the labels anymore. It was a big lesson to learn again – I need to go and see for myself.

Elephants Walk for Greenpeace and Climate Change

The participants in the Chang(e) Elephant Caravan have finally reached their destination after their trek across the plains of Central Thailand. The five elephants and Greenpeace supporters set off from the outskirts of Khao Yai National Park fourteen days ago with the purpose of bringing attention to global warming. They are calling on Barack Obama and other world leaders to take immediate action against climate change at the Copenhagen summit in December. The Chang(e) Elephant Caravan also coincides with the start of the Climate Change talks in Bangkok which start on Monday. (If you didn’t know, “chang” is Thai for elephant.)

According to Greenpeace, global warming effects everyone, both rich and poor countries alike. They say that Southeast Asia is one of the most vulnerable and least prepared regions to cope with the impacts of climate change. They also claim that the Asian Elephant, along with almost 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity in the region, is threatened by deforestation which in turn magnifies the impact of any climate change. According to their research, deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. They say time is fast running out and a strong climate treaty is badly needed at Copenhagen.

The five elephants on the 250 km long journey were all rehabilitated by the Thai Elephant Research and Conservation Fund (TERF). The route took them from Khao Yai National Park to Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachinburi, Chachoengsao and finally Samut Prakan. Wiriya Kingwatcharapong, a media campaigner for Greenpeace, told me that all of the elephants easily managed the walk without any physical harm done to them. They never did more than 10 kilometers per day and that there were plenty of rest periods. They also travelled on trucks whenever the route took them through cities and on busy highways. In addition, it is apparently against the law for elephants to cross provincial borders on foot. So, they had to be put on trucks for these short stretches of road.

I caught up with the Chang(e) Elephant Caravan at Ancient Siam in Samut Prakan at the weekend. This was their finishing line and also a resting place for two days. The five magnificent elephants were greeted by hundreds of local school children who then briefly joined the caravan as they paraded through the park. The banner that they held proclaimed, “Save our Forests. Save our Climate.” The fourteen day journey had taken them through the Bangpakong River Basin, an important agricultural area in Thailand, which is now experiencing climate change impacts such as flooding, drought, saltwater intrusion, and coastal erosion. Greenpeace held workshops and public hearing during the journey and all of the evidence that they collected was then presented to the media on Sunday morning at Ancient Siam.

At the weekend, Greenpeace held educational activities for the school children at Ancient Siam. They taught them about the Asian elephants and also the dangers from global warming. Apparently, there used to be over 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are now only 2,000 wild and 3,000 domesticated elephants left. The situation will only get worse as we continue to take over their natural habitats. I have posted more pictures that I took at the Ancient Siam over at the ThailandQA Forums. I have also posted a video at the Paknam Video blogs. Visit for more information about Ancient Siam and other tourist attractions in Samut Prakan. This website is now a weekly online news magazine with regular updates about Samut Prakan.

An Arranged Wedding to Promote Thai Jungle Tourism

(The following is a brief Thai>English translation from various local news sources)

At 10 in the morning of 24 September, Mr Sanan, administrative chief of Phatthalung province was in charge of perhaps the first ever televised wedding between endangered Sakai people. The Sakai is an indigenous tribe who live in the deep southern jungles of Phatthalung, Trang and Satun. Most of whom are illiterate and can not even comprehend the Thai southern dialect. In fact, their language is closer to Malay and Thai Sea Gypsy than standard Thai. The Sakai are hunters and instead of rice, yam is their stable diet. They are seldom seen outside of their jungles.

Back to the story. The local tourism board of Phatthalung thought it would be a grand idea to arrange and promote such a rare wedding and so invited a whole bunch of respected local officials and 400 tourists to enjoy the festivities. 54 Sakai tribal people from neighbouring Trang and Satun provinces were also invited.

In the morning, the atmosphere was tense as the bridegroom Mr Aitaoyao (age approx. 35) was led by a local village headman and other respected state officials to nearby Papong village to ask for the hand of his wife-to-be Ms Binla (age approx 18). As the groom’s procession went along there was great frenzy. On arrival at the wedding ceremony, everyone was able to witness the bridegroom making a dowry offering of two pieces of traditional red Sakai cloth, a cow and some local fruits.

All the locals, tourist and relatives and friends of the couple were invited to join in the wedding ceremony. Mr Sanan the administrative chief, next finalized the marriage by putting a crown of red flowers over the heads of the happy couple and gave them each a nice official marriage certificate.

Before the wedding, however, the couple had already been living together as boyfriend/girlfriend, but with the opportunity to boost tourism in Phatthalung province, a proper traditional Sakai marriage was arranged.